Diving right in
By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
WAIMEA — Even if he wasn’t about to make a presentation on electrical activity in the brain, and even if he hadn’t recently played Baron Von Trapp in a school production of “The Sound of Music,” Hawaii Prep’s Duncan Michael still could be considered a one of a kind.
Michael ripped through the 11 compulsory dives at a Hawaii High School Athletic Association qualifier, the first of which was greeted by a tepid response from his swimming teammates. Most of them, such as Anu Nihipali, weren’t quite sure what diving decorum dictated.
“I don’t understand it,” she said. “It looked cool because they were flipping everywhere.”
HPA assistant Kristine Dahlquist exhorted the crowd, saying, “You guys are allowed to clap.”
Such is competitive sport for Michael, a senior who’s carried the banner in Big Island Interscholastic Federation diving as of late. It can get lonely at the top some times, but Michael’s just happy to have carved out a niche. And it’s one he’s had practically to himself until recently.
The league had stopped holding diving meets altogether before Michael came along as a freshman. Now he’s the three-time BIIF champion. Of course, he’s also been the only competitor.
“Yeah, it’s kind of an empty title,” said Michael, who’s been diving off and on for six years. “It’s not really that much of a competition. But I never came into the sport with the intention to compete. I competed because I thought it was fun. I felt it was an accomplishment, not so much being the BIIF champion, more being able to compete at states last year.”
He took second in 2012 behind Punahou senior Spencer Madanay in a four-man race, and he earned another HHSAA berth Tuesday.
Even at the statewide level, the diving numbers aren’t much higher.
“A handful,” HPA coach Mark Noetzel said. “Maybe you could get a poker game. Maybe.”
This year, at least Michael’s got some company in the BIIF. Gabe DeRego and Yama Yamamoto are competing at Kamehameha, and Keli Jackson is in her first year of diving for the Ka Makani.
Michael, however, will skip today’s final league dive in favor of a headier pursuit. The aspiring engineer will travel to San Francisco, his hometown, to talk at Apple’s Macworld convention. Just your garden variety presentation on electroencephalography and flight simulation.
“It’s an EEG that I control, which reads my brain waves, which I use to control a helicopter and the computer,” he said.
Michael also can excel on the stage.
“A talented singer and actor,” Noetzel said.
While Michael is in California, Nihipali, the league record-holder in the backstroke, also will take on a new frontier of sorts this weekend.
The senior, who transferred from Kahuku High on Oahu before last season, is eschewing her signature event at BIIFs at Kamehameha in favor of the 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley. She’ll take on a pair of accomplished champions in each race, Hilo’s Beth Tsuha, the league record-holder in the 100 free, and Kealakehe’s Madison Hauanio in the IM.
“Since I got here my 100 free picked up all of sudden, and I decided to focus on it,” Nihipali said. “I don’t really think about records, I think about bettering my times.”
She’s done that, trimming her time down to 53.7 seconds, about half a second behind Tsuha’s mark.
“We’re mixing it up and keeping things fresh,” Noetzel said. “She wants to have a good portfolio to present to colleges as well.”
Also one of the league’s best in the butterfly, Noetzel figures Nihipali is a natural for an IM, despite the fact that she’s only swam it once in a league meet this season.
“I know the techs for all the strokes, so the 200 IM would be easier for me, I’d think,” she said. “It’s just putting it all together. That’s what makes the difference.”
Depending on how things go at BIIFs, Nihipali may still defend her backstroke title at the HHSAA championships.
Then the boarding student is hoping to shuffle off to New York and Wagner College, which is among the schools she’s talking with about swimming at the next level.
“I want to explore, get out of the islands,” Nihipali said.
Two Ka Makani boys are set to defend league titles.
Senior Dane Uy will swim again in the 100 backstroke, and he’ll also challenge teammate Jake Anderson in the 50 freestyle, an event that Anderson won as a freshman last season. Anderson also will try his hand in the butterfly.
“Jake is progressing better in the fly than freestyle, so were excited about that opportunity,” Noetzel said. “We’re doing things with his stroke, kind of like a Tiger Woods issue: rebuilding his stroke.
“Dane’s matured a lot. Had to rebuild him little bit, too. He’s a big kid, who’s got a lot to work with. He’s come a long way.”
Duncan will rejoin Uy and Anderson at states for relays along with sophomores Michael Ho and Tucker Higgins.
The HPA boys didn’t have enough depth last season to overtake Waiakea for the team title at BIIFs, and Noetzel sees a similar issue this year.
“Waiakea and Hilo should have a good time battling things out,” he said.
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